Returning With A Bang (Or Burst) / by Nicolas Cusworth

Before getting to the meat of this, let's get the obvious out of the way. Yes, it's been a long time since the previous post here. Might go more in-depth into why I've been absent in a future post, but the very short version is that I've been busy and haven't had an abundance of larger projects (that have been made public at least) to write extensively about so far this year. The day-to-day toils of a video freelancer in Brooklyn in his early stages of business doesn't make for particularly exciting fare by-and-large.

Moving on though, I've been spurred to return to here at this time not just for a video-related reason, but for the other thing that I do with my cameras occasionally: still photography. More specifically, fireworks photography. Since 2011 I've been playing around with exposure techniques I was actually alerted through my mother, who has been doing the whole photo thing far longer than I have. Basically, rather than simply shooting fireworks using standard timed exposures to create the same-old streaks and lines we're accustomed to seeing with our own eyes, what if there was a way to transform these colorful explosions into geometric shapes and forms resembling other natural occurrences?

Here's the part where I do the whole HERE'S ONE SIMPLE TRICK TO TRANSFORM YOUR FIREWORKS PHOTOGRAPHY. But really, it's stupid simple and something anyone with a DSLR or ILC and a shutter trigger can accomplish.

To get a "burst" effect with tendrils coming out to a point at the end, all you need to do is set your exposure to a couple of seconds or so (I generally use 2.5 seconds), start your exposure focused all the way in to macro range, fire your shutter trigger right before explosion, and gradually rack focus all the way out to infinity by the end of the exposure. Most examples I see using this technique seem to favor using shorter exposures and more rapid changes in focus to get more of a rounded or milk-drop effect to them, which is totally valid and fine. I prefer going for longer exposures and more constant focus pushing though to achieve long geometric points. The results are colorful spiky balls with thicker tendrils resembling something closer to sea urchins and anemone than fireworks.

You can also do the exact reverse and start your exposure at infinity and pull focus in to get a trailing-off effect. The possibilities are limitless basically! If you'd like to try this out yourself at some point though, be prepared to get frustrated. A lot. Like, so much frustration. At the end of the day, these kinds of photos are probably 50% skill/practice and 50% sheer luck in predicting where and when a firework is about to go off. Also, the closer you can get to the action the better. I always use the fireworks in my hometown in Central NJ for these since I know I can pick out a good spot and because they reliably put on a good show (in part because they always have them on the 5th so they can purchase them at a discount).

Even though I've been doing this since 2011, there's one year that's conspicuously absent from all of this. I do not have any photos from 2014 because instead of photographing my town's fireworks I was actually filming them for a very colorful and psychedelic music video for my friends in Meadowhawks, which you can see below.

As of now I don't have any real intentions with these photos other than to put them up, share them, and hope that people enjoy looking at them and also share them. I've had several people in the past day ask about selling prints, and while that's something I could maybe be open to at some point, that also just sounds like a lot of work with high overhead and small profit margins, so we'll see. Anyway, if you enjoyed these and the video, be sure to have a look around at our other work! I'll actually be updating this place with some fresh material and news soon, I swear!

-NC